Where Will Your Journey Downunder Begin?
Dreaming of an Australia vacation? The original land Downunder has reopened to international tourism for the first time since the Australian border closed in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19. For those who’d been forced to put their Australia vacation plans on hold, now’s the time to explore its ancient indigenous culture, catch a glimpse of its unique wildlife, marvel at its diverse landscapes, and grab a drink with the locals in one of its unpretentious cities.
The only question is, where to go first? The obvious answer is Sydney, but while the sparkling Harbour City offers the perfect blend of outdoor appeal and indoors culture, it’s just the beginning of a Downunder adventure.
Sydney and the Blue Mountains
There’s no welcome to Australia quite like seeing the Sydney Harbour Bridge rising over the white sails of Sydney Opera House while a ferry cruises by on Sydney Harbour. There’s an inimitable magic about Australia’s oldest and largest city, from its picture-perfect location to its ever-evolving neighbourhoods. Have lunch on the harbour, explore The Rocks and Bondi Beach, or shop in the marvelous Queen Victoria Building. Then head into the majestic Blue Mountains, a pristine wilderness rich with wildlife and Aboriginal lore.
Uluru and the Red Centre
Uluru/Ayers Rock feels like the heart of Australia, right down to its shape and colour. A sacred place to the local Anangu people, there’s no better destination to learn about Australia’s indigenous culture, or how it’s thrived in this harsh desert landscape. Don’t miss Kata Tjuta/The Olgas, 36 domes formed from the erosion of a monolith that was once larger than Uluru. If you have time, extend the journey to King’s Canyon for spectacular hiking, and Alice Springs for a glimpse of Outback life you’ll get nowhere else in Australia.
North Queensland and the Great Barrier Reef
Reports of the Great Barrier Reef’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. This fragile ecosystem does however need careful management and conservation to ensure it’s still around for future generations. You can do your part by booking a cruise and snorkelling experience with a small operator, visiting a less crowded part of the reef. For a different view of this natural wonder, consider visiting its the southern corners, on the edge of Queensland’s beautiful Whitsunday Islands.
Melbourne has been called Australia’s cultural capital, its sporting capital, its fashion capital, its theatre capital, its culinary capital… Yes, there’s a theme here. In fact, Melbourne was Australia’s original capital, so the title isn’t entirely misplaced. The city is rich with historical sights including the Shrine of Remembrance, world class museums such as the National Gallery of Victoria and the Melbourne Museum, funky yet friendly neighbourhoods like Fitzroy and St Kilda, and of course, the city’s labyrinth of laneways, intricate arcades, and countless independent cafes. It’s also a top spot for a day trip, whether it’s along the Great Ocean Road to the Twelve Apostles, or to Phillip Island to see the adorable nightly penguin parade.
Adelaide: Gateway to Wine and Wildlife
Adelaide might be Australia’s most underrated capital city, a friendly and relaxed cultural hub that has mastered the art of the hidden bar or café. Adelaide is of course known as the gateway to the Barossa Valley, (very) arguably Australia’s most lauded wine region. Regardless of who might agree, Adelaide has claimed its title as Australia’s wine capital (sorry Melbourne!), and is a must-visit for foodies headed to Australia. South Australia also boasts one of the country’s most biodiverse attractions in the form of Kangaroo Island. A short ferry ride from South Australia’s mainland, the island’s isolation has made it a haven for a wide range of native species including koalas and kangaroos, and a wide variety of seals. In between exciting wildlife sightings, be sure to explore Flinders Chase National Park to see Remarkable Rocks and Admiral’s Arch.
The island state of Tasmania is often the highlight of a second or third trip to Australia, but you might want to bump it up the list. Explore its appealing mid-sized capital, Hobart, which boasts one of the world’s finest and most irreverent modern art museums, the Museum of Old and New Art. Day trip out to the Tasman Peninsula to immerse yourself in Australia’s convict history, or follow the east coast to Freycinet National Park, home to spectacular Wineglass Bay beach. Perhaps Tasmania’s greatest treasure is the Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park. You can opt to visit just for the day, which gives you time to traverse a couple of spectacular tracks and spot some wildlife, perhaps including the elusive Tasmanian Devil, or commit to the full six-day trek through this incredible slice of Australia.